These free events are held at the club's headquarters in the historic passenger depot of the Frisco Railway at 8833 Big Bend Road in Webster Groves. Visitors have a chance to see the club members at work, operating a number of model trains along an expansive track system that spreads across multiple rooms amid a detailed backdrop of hills, depots, trees, tunnels and bridges. Three train operators manage the action from a perch above the track, with support from a dispatcher. Although infrequent, derailments do occur on occasion–to the consternation of the club members and the delight of younger members of the viewing audience.
Visitors to the public sessions–which run from 7 to 8:30 p.m.–are often packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, jockeying for position to view favorite engines. "It's easy to spot our regular visitors," said Ken Rimmel, the club's secretary. "They bring step stools so they can see more action."
The monthly audience is composed of a diverse mix of young children, teens and adults. "Sometimes we have more kids than adults at our public sessions," Rimmel said. "We hope that some of them will grow up to be future members."
Indeed, one of the primary reasons the Big Bend Railroad Club opens its door to the public is to inspire future generations of model railroad enthusiasts and to build support for their club.
"Membership is a major challenge," said Paul Thomas, the club's president. "Creating and sustaining interest in model railroading is vital to the future of our club." As Thomas notes, model railroading is a hobby that uses a broad range of skills and talents, and membership in the club allows individuals to gain knowledge in design, electricity, mechanics, carpentry and many other areas while at the same time building new friendships.
Currently the club has about 25 members, though some are more active than others. Many of the club's members have been involved with the organization for decades, but several others have joined in the last few years. The youngest current member is 14.
But even the younger members have a strong appreciation for the club's rich history. Today the Big Bend Railroad Club is recognized as one of the longest running model railroad organizations in the region. It was formed in 1938, just three years after the National Model Railroad Association was launched. Throughout its 74-year history, the local club has been headquartered in the same building it calls home today. For decades, the club occupied only a small part of the building, which at the time still served as a functioning depot for the Frisco Railway. Disembarking passengers would often crowd around the model tracks and watch the club members as they tinkered with engines and train couplings.
But as passenger rail travel plummeted, the railroad stopped using the building as a depot. When the building was eventually scheduled for demolition in 1994, the Big Bend Railroad Club stepped in and bought it. The purchase enabled them to not only save their headquarters, but to double the size of their model railroad.
The move was fortuitous for the club, but it also came at a time of declining interest and awareness of model railroading. "The existence of the Big Bend Railroad Club appears to be one of the best kept secrets in the community," Thomas said. "We continue to find people living within walking distance of the old Frisco Depot who were not aware of the extensive model railroad that has been within for over 70 years."From the calendar